I was reading The Wizard & The Prophet by Charles E Mann on a crowded train one evening a few months ago and when a young girl sat down next to me. The name of the book is intriguing, and it piqued her interest too.
She was in first or second grade and her curly hair was made into numerous tiny plaits. Her eyes shone with a curiosity that would make any teacher’s heart sing.
Her mother’s heart though, quailed. She said, “Now…now don’t bother the nice lady there, let her get on with it.” I looked up at the mother and told her that I love reading to children, and though this particular book was pedantic, I did it anyway. It quickly taught me never to under-estimate children – my student soaked in everything and asked the most engaging questions.
I saw a certain amount of editing would need to be done if the topic were to sustain the interest of a 6-year-old. The book is a non-fiction tome going strong at 678 pages – pages richly adorned with facts, figures, and life histories of all the people involved. But, I knew the bits where a child’s wonder can be kindled.
The Wizard & The Prophet is a marvelous title because it encapsulates the polarity of our thinking so beautifully, and in this sense, they are both required for us to thrive. The Wizard in the book is Norman Borlaug, who is credited with leading the way for GMO strains of wheat production. Mentioned alongside him are stalwarts like Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, who saved billions of people from hunger and starvation.
William Vogt is the Prophet, who during his study in the Mexican coastal areas observed how we are stretching our natural resources and the effects it has on things as far-flung as bird migratory patterns and climate. In many ways, he is the one who set up the first bells of Global Warming and Climate Change. He is the Prophet.
“Do you believe in Climate Change?”, asked the girl wide-eyed.
I told her I did not need to believe in Climate Change at all because the experiments show me how humans are changing the air around. I showed her the pages outlining the experiment where scientists managed to pin down Carbon Dioxide as the source of our problems.
I cannot deny that global warming and climate change have always intrigued me. Carbon Dioxide only accounts for 0.04 % of the atmospheric gases after all.
In The Wizard & The Prophet, the author outlines the experiments used to determine that, it is indeed carbon dioxide that is the culprit and how our industries are directly contributing to its increase. The correlation between carbon-dioxide levels increasing and global warming is now proven beyond doubt. Known as the Keeling Curve, we measure the carbon dioxide in the air over many decades.
(During the spring, there are dips because the Arctic tundra sprouts plant life and plants absorb Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere.)
Looking at the worried expression on the child’s face, I asked her, “But not all is worrisome, did you know that we can reduce carbon dioxide?”
“Trees?” she said, and I nodded yes.
I went on to tell her about the excellent example set forth for us by the Kenyans in The Green Belt Movement, and how a person called Dr. Wangari Maathai helped the Kenyans plant millions of trees over the past 30 years.
She glowed at the simple solution thought of by Dr. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize. After a few minutes, my student’s stop had arrived and she stepped off the train with her mother, who was now listening to her daughter talk to her about The Wizard & The Prophet.
As I reflected on the chat with her, I realized that science and the proof for increasing carbon footprint caused by human activity have been around for decades now. We just need to take action.
But there is hope: I am glad to read that China proposes to plant and nurture a forest the size of Ireland to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality.
India was one of the first nations to increase its green cover by almost 15% in 2019.
We have one planet on which we can live. Let’s do all we can to take care of it.
Happy Earth Day! April 22, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. A day meant to spur us into action meant to preserve and sustain Earth.
Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.